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Dates: July 4, 2023 - July 25, 2023
Location: Bocas Research Station, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Organizer: Dr. Rachel Collin STRI, Panama
Registration Fee: $995 (includes room and board, STRI registration fee, etc.). Some need-based fellowships are available


Juan Sánchez

University of Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia

Luisa Dueñas

University of Colombia in Bogotá

Alejandro Grajales

American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA

Davide Maggioni

University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy

Course description:

Cnidarians comprise diverse benthic species, which are ecosystem engineers in tropical costs and reefs. Despite that many species are threatened by the current changing environmental conditions, experts to recognize cnidarians species in the field or laboratory are in the decline. The Caribbean Sea includes exuberant “animal forests” dominated by both hard and soft benthic cnidarians, which constitutes a natural laboratory to study recent diversification process in a wide range of taxa. The goal of the workshop is to provide training and material for direct underwater identification and rapid microscopic examination in the laboratory. During this workshop we will survey the diversity of benthic cnidarians, such as octocorals, corals, hydroids, and anemones, in different tropical ecosystems such as coral reefs, soft bottoms, sea grasses, and mangrove roots. We will work on field identification, coupled with laboratory techniques for the morphological identification to the lowest taxonomic level possible. To cover all the relevant morphological identification for each group we will emphasize on direct identification of living specimens. Additionally, during the workshop we will have keynote talks on different aspects of Cnidarians biology and students will develop short projects taking advantage of the laboratory facilities and access to the field. We will also have a group project on neglected characters such as the polyp/tentacle morphology and phenotypic plasticity, which as a group we can publish as data papers.

The students participating in this course will:

– Be able to recognize the shallow-water benthic Cnidarians of the Caribbean Sea that are found in different tropical ecosystems such as coral reefs, soft bottoms, sea grasses, and mangrove roots.

– Identify these animals in the field and use laboratory techniques for morphological identification at the lowest possible taxonomic level.

Application: Please e-mail your CV, 1 letter of recommendation and a 1-2 page statement explaining your background and reasons for taking the course, to before January 20th, 2023. To be considered for a need-based fellowship, applicants should send a description of their need, their efforts to obtain funding from other available sources, and a travel budget.


Isabel Pen

The Ohio State University, Museum of Biological Diversity
Howdy! My name is Isabel Pen and I’m a second-year PhD student in the lab of Dr. Meg Daly at the Ohio State University, where I study sea anemone evolution. I hold a Bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Houston and a Master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Kansas. My research targets the evolutionary patterns of a group of metridiodian sea anemones united by their unique biology in the families Aliciidae, Boloceroididae, and Gonactiniidae.

Carly Lo

Texas A&M University in Galveston
Hello! I am a first year PhD student at Texas A&M University in Galveston in the Miglietta lab. My main research interests are in jellyfish genomics and evolutionary biology. I am currently working on using medusozoan cnidarians as a phylogenetic model to understand how vision evolves, and plan to develop a transcriptomic phylogeny to reconstruct the evolutionary history of eyes and quantify instances of convergence. My first step is to sample taxa spanning medusozoa with particular attention to eye diversity, so I am really excited to learn morphological and taxonomic identification techniques for cnidarians in this course.

Emily McLaughlin

University of Alabama
My name is Emily McLaughlin. I grew up in Washington State and have always had a love of the outdoors and animals. I currently live in Alabama with my partner M’Kayla, as well as our four cats, corn snake, and freshwater aquarium critters. I worked on my master’s degree at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California studying Antarctic crinoids of the genus Promachocrinus. I am now a PhD candidate at the University of Alabama and am a member of the Kocot lab studying the taxonomy of Solenogastres (Mollusca, Aplacophora). Though most of my fieldwork has thus far brought me to Antarctica, for one chapter of my dissertation I am looking at Solenogastres association with cnidarians using ROV footage. Many clades are thought to be specialized feeders of specific cnidarians. For this course, I am looking forward to learning about cnidarian taxonomy to be able to more easily assess this association.

Kassidy Lange

College of Charleston
I’m just finishing up my master's degree in marine biology at College of Charleston. My research interests revolve around the ecophysiology of mesophotic octocorals — focusing on better understanding physiological characteristics relevant to restoration and management. I first became interested in physiology during my undergraduate degree at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota where I worked on the effects of endocrine disrupting pollutants on snapping turtles using bioassays. Then, I was introduced to mesophotic octocorals at College of Charleston in Peter Etnoyer’s deep sea coral ecology lab and became fascinated by these mysterious deep-sea organisms. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, NOAA received funding to study and restore delicate deep-sea habitat. The motivating question of my master's project was: What are some ecophysiological characteristics essential to understanding to restore the octocoral population injured by the oil spill? Most physiological traits —such as the response to temperature, fragmentation, and light— lack previous research. My project goal was to fill in some of these gaps to help with ongoing restoration projects of mesophotic octocorals. I currently work as a contractor with CSS for NOAA in Charleston as an experimental coral biologist on this project.

Sriram Ramamurthy

University of California, Santa Barbara
I am a first-year PhD student in Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I earned my Bachelor's degree in Biology, also from UC Santa Barbara, in 2022. My research examines the population biology of California intertidal sea anemones, with a focus on use of space, aggression, feeding, and life-history evolution. My current main project investigates the ecological consequences of intraspecific aggression in the sea anemone Anthopleura sola. In the past, I have also worked on other aspects of Cnidarian biology, including studying the population dynamics of algal endosymbionts in Aiptasia and analyzing genomic data of deep-sea octocorals. In this course, I hope to further my understanding of benthic Cnidarian taxonomy and morphology which will be very useful in executing the comparative and phylogenetic aspects of my thesis work.

Víctor Lara

Universidad Marítima Internacional de Panamá
My name is Victor Lara, I’m 23 years old, and I’m an undergraduate student of Marine Biology at the International Maritime University of Panama. During the last four years of my undergrad, I’ve been able to participate in research both inside and outside of Panama, and this has helped me gain experience and work on different techniques, fields, and species throughout a variety of ecosystems. Currently, I’m part of the Collin Lab at STRI and I’m working on starting with my own research project using the specie Ricordea florida found on coral reefs along Bocas del Toro, Panama, and this will be used as my undergraduate thesis project.

Amalia Murgueitio

Universidad de Los Andes
I am a biologist with a humanities background and an MSc in tropical ecology. My interests lie in coral reef ecology, conservation, restoration, and the impact of climate change on these ecosystems. For my BSc thesis I explored the symbiosis between Agaricia corals and endolithic algae via Scanning Electron Microscopy in the BIOMMAR laboratory, Universidad de Los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia). My MSc project, conducted in collaboration with the NGO Blue Resources Trust (Colombo, Sri Lanka) and the Marine Biology Lab of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Brussels, Belgium), focused on changes in the benthic community and fish assemblage after a bleaching event on Sri Lanka's east coast. As a research assistant and intern, I have been involved in projects related to microbioerosion, coral reef monitoring, fish diversity in shipwrecks, deep-sea coral growth, and the diversity of deep-sea gorgonian octocorals caught as bycatch. Currently, I am working at BIOMMAR on a project that examines bioerosion and ocean acidification in Colombian coral reefs. I am excited to explore the fascinating world of benthic cnidarians at STRI and to meet everyone!

Corinne Fuchs

Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
I am a biologist and science communicator dedicated to doing and sharing marine research and wonder. I am currently the marine invertebrate collection manager at the Florida Biodiversity Collection, part of the Florida Wildlife Research Institute (Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission). As the collection manager, I identify many specimens trawled on research vessels, including various corals. I am especially excited to improve with hard corals and gain skills identifying the hydroids and soft corals that are so prevalent in the Atlantic. I am currently part of a team investigating the variety of Siderastrea corals found in the Tampa Bay area, but my past experiments focused on coral reef ecology broadly, especially trophic interactions and community composition. My graduate research in the Burkepile community ecology lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara investigated how local anthropogenic stressors interact on multiple scales to alter coral reef communities. Some of my research has been in Pacific reefs, but mostly studies the coral reefs in Florida (United States). I also interned at the California Academy of Sciences as scientific illustrator and a systematics student, working on crustose coralline algae and working with scientists from multiple collections.

Judith Camps

Universidad de Barcelona
My name is Judith Camps, I’m from Spain and I have a bachelor’s degree in Marine Science from the University of Barcelona. I have also completed a master’s degree in marine ecology in Chile, where I specialized in the taxonomic and ecological study of cold-water corals. During my research, I have the opportunity to publish the re-description of Phycogorgia fucata-feauturing a flat axis conversely to the round axis found in the other local gorgonians-as the sole species in the genus. Nowadays, I am a PhD student in Biodiversity at the University of Barcelona. My PhD study is focused on gaining a better understanding of the role of gorgonians in ecosystems and untangling various issues related to the genetic relationships among Gorgoniidae family. My project is funded by the British Ecological Society and other collaborators, and I also collaborate with the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) to carry out the genetic studies. I have been interested in the sea since I was very young, and I took my first CMAS 1 star diving course when I vas 14 years old. Since then, I have never stopped diving, and I am currently an SSI and ANDI DiveMaster. Diving is, for me, a scientific tool to extract information from the ocean. I have had different experiences, especially in the Pacific Ocean, which have toughened my diving training. Lastly, I also enjoy scientific outreach, and I give talks at schools or festivals such as Pint of Science. Additionally, I have created a podcast on Spotify titled “Bajo el Piélago” (Beneath the Seafloor).

Erika Mascota

California State University of Long Beach
Erika Mascota is an undergraduate student attending the California State University of Long Beach studying towards a Marine Biology degree. In the future, she plans to study how benthic cnidarians, corals, have evolved and continue to evolve in their rapid changing environment. She hopes to focus her research on aiding in their recovery and raising awareness of their importance. Her aim in taking this course is to develop her knowledge of benthic cnidaria taxonomy and identification as well as in research possibilities to study them. She is very grateful for the opportunity and is excited to meet everyone.

Brycen Columbus

Nova Southeastern University
I am a graduate student at Nova Southeastern University. My research interests include coral reef ecology, studies in symbiosis, marine ecology, and marine conservation. Although I have not started my thesis, I am looking into studying the effects of human presence on butterflyfish with consideration of flight initiation distance and functional traits. I am excited to expand my knowledge and understanding of cnidarians and ready to engage and actively participate in good science practices. I hope to eventually go on and enroll in a PhD program after completing my Master’s in Marine Science.

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation’s Office of International Science & Engineering (OISE) through an award titled “IRES Track II: International Training to Understand the Relationships of Non-Bilaterian Animals” (OISE-1828949). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.